(WSVN) - You have heard it so much, it’s used as a joke. The check is in the mail, but this is no joke. Several businesses in South Florida are having their mail stolen and checks altered and cashed. It’s not being taken from their mailboxes, so where is the theft happening? Patrick Fraser has the story.
Running a business is hard. A business that covers 700 acres is even tougher…
Jen Dennis, Plant Life Farms: “Plant Life is a nursery. We sell trees, shrubs — you name it, we’ve got it.”
Jen Dennis is the office manager at Plant Life … making sure everything runs smoothly.
Jen Dennis: “The owner basically calls me his bulldog. I make sure everything is in check.”
And then this summer in June, Jen noticed customers who normally send checks on time had not, so she contacted them.
Jen Dennis: “‘Well, we have already paid you.’ And we say, ‘OK, well we are going to need a copy of your canceled check.'”
The proof poured in. Copies of checks made out to Plant Life with some fraudulent additions.
Jen Dennis: “Originally it read $1,117. 90. They altered it to read $4,117. 90. They made it payable to Plant Life Farms or Rogellio Morales.”
Check after check was altered and cashed with various names.
Jen Dennis: “Amy Garcia … Jessica Chaparro … another Everisto Sotolongo.”
Two other nearby businesses told Jen checks sent to them were disappearing, but no one was hit as hard as Plant Life, with dozens of checks worth $80,000 disappearing.
Jen Dennis: “I am very frustrated and I am very annoyed.”
The mail theft was reported to the postal inspector to try to determine who was stealing the checks. Jen knows one thing — it’s not being taken from Plant Life’s mail box.
Jen Dennis: “I have a key and I open it. And you can see you aren’t getting anything out of that.”
And then a break — the name Leidy Martin had been on a stolen check.
In August, Hallandale Police say she showed up at this check cashing store to try to cash two more checks made out to Plant Life. A sharp employee called police. Leidy Martin Saez was arrested.
Capt. Rashana Dabney-Donovan, Hallandale Police: “And after the investigation, she was placed under arrest and charged for grand theft of a third degree and two counts of presenting fraudulent checks.”
On the report, police say Martin Saez told them her father gave her the checks. We tried to talk to her with no luck.
But the August arrest didn’t stop the mail theft as more and more checks intended for Plant Life kept getting intercepted and cashed.
Jen Dennis: “We are assuming they are a big ring of people.”
And it’s almost as if the thieves are taunting Jen. In the mail in late October, two envelopes arrived. They had been ripped open and the checks taken out and cashed by crooks. The mail was then put into Plant Life’s box, confirming what Jen has thought all along.
Jen Dennis: “We are 100 percent sure this is coming from the post office. Someone in the post office sorting facility or one of the post offices.”
The United States Post Office is investigating.
Blanca Alvarez, U.S. Postal Inspector: “We have had a good success rate of charging people when they get caught.”
They can’t discuss the details of the case, but Alvarez firmly believes the Postal Inspectors Office will solve this mysterious mail fraud case.
Blanca Alvarez: “I know that the victim wants immediate gratification and that somebody gets arrested right away, but these cases sometimes take a long time to investigate. We want to make sure we have a solid case and the charges stick when we present it.”
Jen has a lot of virtues, but after seeing dozens of checks stolen and cashed over the last five months, patience is not one of them.
Jen Dennis: “It’s not easy to be patient when you are losing money. It’s really frustrating to keep hearing the same thing over and over again. My patience is gone.”
Hopefully the banks will return the stolen money to Plant Life. Hopefully the mail mystery will be solved. For Jen’s sake, hopefully soon.
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